The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook : An Artist's Notebook

by Shaun Tan

Arthur A. Levine Books
February 2013

Ages 10 – 14 . Grades 5 – 9

"I'm often wary of using the word 'inspiration' to introduce my work -- it sounds too much like a sun shower from the heavens, absorbed by a passive individual enjoying an especially receptive moment. While that may be the case on rare occasions, the reality is usually far more prosaic. Staring at a blank piece of paper, I can't think of anything original. I feel utterly uninspired and unreceptive. It's the familiar malaise of 'artist's block' and in such circumstances there is only one thing to do: just start drawing." -- Shaun Tan

And when Shaun Tan starts drawing, the results are stunning. In The Bird King: An Artist's Notebook, we find a window into the creative process: the stops and starts, the ideas that never took off, and the ones that grew into something much bigger. Fans of The Arrival will recognize the quirky, surreal sensibility that is so distinctly Shaun Tan in this stunning collection, and gain insight into how his many gorgeous books were made.
Shaun Tan

Shaun Tan is the New York Times bestselling author of The Arrival, Tales from Outer Suburbia, Tales from the Inner City, Rules of Summer, and The Singing Bones. He received the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award in 2011 and won an Academy Award for the adaptation of his picture book The Lost Thing (from Lost & Found: Three by Shaun Tan). Shaun lives in Melbourne, Australia.


  • “'Why isn’t the finished work as good as the sketch?' Tan (The Arrival) asks in the introduction to this collection of loose illustrations and rough ideas, wondering why drawings lose their spontaneity as they undergo revision. These sketches took little time to make, he says, and some 'barely escaped the paper-recycling bin.' Fascinated with hybrids, Tan draws cyclopean monsters with claws and tentacles, light bulbs with tails, cars with antennae, and a flower whose bloom is a single human eye. A section of full-color paintings and drawings offers rich and complex layers of pigment, lush shadows, and startling highlights of scarlet and magenta. In one, an Asian man wearing glasses holds the hand of a small boy on a sidewalk; 'Dad + me,' reads the legend. A careful set of sketches records pre-Columbian artifacts; another, just as earnest, invents a character alphabet for an undersea civilization; a cover sketch for Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels also appears. The sharing of unfinished work is a generous gesture, and the collection is a treasure trove for any young artist who wants to know more about how ideas are captured on paper." - Publishers Weekly starred review 

    "Tan, the mastermind behind the incomparable The Arrival (2007) and Lost and Found (2011), opens up his sketchbooks and offers up an array of drawings, doodles, and visual experiments. Separated into works for books, theater, and film; life drawings; notebooks; and tantalizing glimpses of untold stories, the entries all share Tan’s unique trademarks. Unmistakable are his flawless craftsmanship, his organically industrial yet timeless aesthetic, and his lyrically haunting style and tone. Given their own page and focus, many details that might have attracted merely a glance in larger works are turned here from a flourish into a full-fledged character or visual idea. Simultaneously, mechanics of his world-building skill come clear, like a penchant for embellishing illustrations to make them appear a part of a larger blueprint or schematic, giving the sense of a small image within a vast tapestry that is itself an infinitely branching world of imagination. The author’s stated hope is that, in their evolutionary examination of images and narratives, the sketchbook pages “offer a privileged insight into the creative process.” So it does, making it an invaluable resource for burgeoning visual storytellers. But even for those interested in little more than pondering and daydreaming, this is a powerful springboard for the imagination." - Jesse Karp, Booklist starred review

    Praise for THE ARRIVAL

    "A wordless tour de force" -- Time Out New York Kids

    "[A]n unashamed paean to the immigrant's spirit, tenacity and guts, perfectly crafted for maximum effect." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

    "Filled with both subtlety and grandeur, the book is a unique work that not only fulfills but also expands the potential of its form." -- Booklist, starred review

    A New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2007

    A Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2007

    An ALA Notable Children's Book, 2008


    "You almost can't stop yourself from saying 'Wow...' Tan's work overflows with human warmth and childlike wonder." -- New York Times Book Review

    "TALES FROM OUTER SUBURBIA is not quite like anything else, and that's perhaps the best thing of all about it, opening up reading as a sort of strong, wild and individual activity." -- Chicago Tribune

    "Graphic-novel and text enthusiasts alike will be drawn to this breathtaking combination of words and images." -- Kirkus Reviews, starred review

    A New York Times Best Illustrated Book of 2009

    An ALA Notable Children's Book, 2010


    "Shaun Tan rocks my retinas... The book is gorgeously designed, the stories are evocative and mysterious, and every page of Tan's paintings -- I can't bring myself to call them mere illustrations -- commands long moments of study." -- Cleveland Plain Dealer

    "Shaun Tan creates a landscape part Bosch, part Lewis Carroll, narrates with a young, quiet voice, and, once again, makes a book like no one else's." -- Chicago Tribune

    An ALA Notable Children's Book, 2012



Paper Over Board / Smyth

ISBN: 9780545465137

128pp. | 6-⅛ x 8-¼